Album Review: Craft Spells – Nausea

Debuting under the persona Craft Spells, Justin Vallesteros first appeared on the scene in 2011 with his debut full-length Idle Labor, associating himself with a wave of bands touching upon indie-pop rock revivalism of the 1980’s college rock era- ties that were rough edged, yes, yet seemingly present. Bands like Beach Fossils and the now dissembled MINKS shared similar sonic qualities, with all three rising on a sort of trend, so to say.

For young Valesteros, success came instantly, and surprisingly. It was only a matter of time before he received a deal with Brooklyn, NY label Captured Tracks– instantaneously moving him out of the infinitesimal bed room where Idle Label was recorded, and catapulting him straight to San Francisco. Now inherently free, Vallesteros felt the exact opposite- alienated from society, only to over-indulge in social media. After a rather lackluster follow up EP Gallery in 2012, Vallesteros called for more inspiration, this time from his old home town in sunny, blissful, yet overbearing Southern California.

On Nausea, Vallesteros found himself dropping the crude and slipshod drum machines that rhythmically drove all of Idle Label, clearing space for acoustic percussion which led to a typical rock aesthetic and allowed each track to seamlessly swing, flow, and shuffle straight into each another. The entirety of Nausea was written on piano, not only complementing the soothing reverb of the entire album, but also Vallesteros’ pure musicianship.

Sonically, Idle Labor and Nausea are similar in many fashions- with Nausea offering a more organic counterpart than its litter brother. However, by maintaining a much thicker, rich sounding catharsis, this album is better than its predecessor, front to back.

The entire record’s composition seems to be an ode to the dropping out of Vallesteros in a broad sense, acting as a piece of self-reflection without breaking the boundaries of self-absorption. You will find Vallesteros asking himself “Is it so strange to be alone?” on title track “Nausea”, a word which brings about so much malady and exasperation. But each track on the record instills its inner sense of sheer lucidity, the exact opposite of Valeseros’ previous theoretical, raucous nausea.

As seen in subtle on tracks like “Komorebi”, and pretty much the every other track involved on Nausea, airy, ambient vibes creep their way in, almost in a too-eerily-to-describe Bradford Cox type of sonic wave, accompanied with dizzying piano chords. With tracks like “Changing Faces” and it’s extraordinarily sparkling guitar riffs, you will slowly begin to realize that Nausea is one big shining guitarscape, with the live instrumentation belted out in a New Order, 80’s, atypically quizzical tone. Also- let’s not forget about the little moments on the tracks like such as “Laughing for My Life”- where Vallesteros pocketed crescendos are utilized as moments of heated, sonically induced passion.

Idle Labor scales miniscule in comparison to 2014’s Nausea in terms of blissfulness- an unexpected transformation and consequent maturing of a young artist who more or less lost his way. In the end, Nausea moves Vallesteros, or Craft Spells, from a small, bed room producer to a new tier of music quality- one not many can achieve.

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